A former CPU researcher for Intel put together an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit over the weekend, where he answered the online community's questions about his experience designing processors and working with the nano-level technology that powers your PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. 'eabrek', to use his Reddit alias, had some brilliant insights about the past, present and future direction for processing tech.
It's interesting to find out that just like the internal combustion engine, not a great deal has changed about the basic design and construction of processors for the last 50 years. Eabrek says that apart from the innovation of the branch predictor in 1981, CPUs today are essentially using the same design theory as mainframe circuits from the 1960s.
Similarly, the reason that processors continue to get smaller and smaller every iteration is simple: smaller CPUs cost less to produce. When you can fit a larger amount of circuitry into a CPU with regular advancements in nanometre-scale semiconductors, making them physically larger costs more than the performance increase it produces.
All this insight comes just as Intel has announced new 64-bit smartphone processors at Mobile World Congress, claiming better performance than the Apple A7 inside the iPhone 5S. Qualcomm has done the same; its first 64-bit processor is the mid-range Snapdragon 610. Eabrek makes the passing observation that one -- but not both -- of Intel's x64 and Qualcomm's ARM architectures will be around for a long time to come.
If you've got an interest in the technology that works away behind the scenes in the devices you use every day, this AMA is definitely worth a read. [Reddit]